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The Bali Fintech Agenda: A Blueprint for Successfully Harnessing Fintech’s Opportunities

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The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group today launched the Bali Fintech Agenda, a set of 12 policy elements aimed at helping member countries to harness the benefits and opportunities of rapid advances in financial technology that are transforming the provision of banking services, while at the same time managing the inherent risks.

The Agenda proposes a framework of high-level issues that countries should consider in their own domestic policy discussions and aims to guide staff from the two institutions in their own work and dialogue with national authorities. The 12 elements (see table) were distilled from members’ own experiences and cover topics relating broadly to enabling fintech; ensuring financial sector resilience; addressing risks; and promoting international cooperation.

“There are an estimated 1.7 billion adults in the world without access to financial services,” said IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde. “Fintech can have a major social and economic impact for them and across the membership in general. All countries are trying to reap these benefits, while also mitigating the risks. We need greater international cooperation to achieve that, and to make sure the fintech revolution benefits the many and not just the few. This Agenda provides a useful framework for countries to assess their policy options and adapt them to their own circumstances and priorities.”

“The Bali Fintech Agenda provides a framework to support the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly in low-income countries, where access to financial services is low,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said. “Countries are demanding deeper access to financial markets, and the World Bank Group will focus on delivering fintech solutions that enhance financial services, mitigate risks, and achieve stable, inclusive economic growth.”

Mrs. Lagarde and Dr. Kim presented the Agenda in a panel discussion today during the Annual Meetings in Bali. They were joined by Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Minister of Finance of Indonesia; Lesetja Kganyago, Governor of the South African Reserve Bank; and Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England and Chair of the Financial Stability Board.

With their near universal membership, the Fund and the Bank, are well positioned to gather information from all countries and to reflect on their respective needs and objectives at various levels of economic and technological development. They both also offer a forum for sharing the experience of countries that are not members of international standard-setting bodies on issues such as combating money laundering and terrorism financing, market integrity, and consumer protection. The Financial Stability Board and several other international standard-setters have been reviewing the implications of fintech developments and have indicated regulation and supervision priorities.

The IMF and World Bank will start developing specific work programs on fintech, as the nature and scope of their members’ needs become clearer, in response to the Bali Fintech Agenda. The IMF’s initial focus will be on the implications for national and global monetary and financial stability; and the evolution of the International Monetary System and global financial safety net.

In response to the Bali Fintech Agenda, the World Bank will focus on using fintech to deepen financial markets, enhance responsible access to financial services, and improve cross-border payments and remittance transfer systems. The Bank will draw on the International Finance Corporation’s growing experience in this area. The Agenda contributes to building the foundations of the digital economy that is a key pillar in the World Bank Group’s larger disruptive technologies engagement.

The Bali Fintech Agenda:

  1. Embrace the promise of fintech.
  2. Enable new technologies to enhance financial service provision.
  3. Reinforce competition and commitment to open, free, and contestable markets.
  4. Foster fintech to promote financial inclusion and develop financial markets.
  5. Monitor developments closely to deepen understanding of evolving financial systems.
  6. Adapt regulatory framework and supervisory practices for orderly development and stability of the financial system.
  7. Safeguard the integrity of financial systems.
  8. Modernize legal frameworks to provide an enabling legal landscape.
  9. Ensure the stability of domestic monetary and financial systems.
  10. Develop robust financial and data infrastructure to sustain fintech benefits.
  11. Encourage international cooperation and information-sharing.
  12. Enhance collective surveillance of the international monetary and financial system.

The Bali Fintech Agenda

Embrace the Promise of Fintech with its far-reaching social and economic impact, particularly in low-income countries, small states, and for the underserved, and prepare to capture its possible wide-ranging benefits, including: increasing access to financial services and financial inclusion; deepening financial markets; and improving cross-border payments and remittance transfer systems. Reaping these benefits requires preparation, strengthening of institutional capacity, expanding outreach to stakeholders, and adopting a cross-agency approach involving relevant ministries and agencies.

Enable New Technologies to Enhance Financial Service Provision by facilitating foundational infrastructures, fostering their open and affordable access, and ensuring a conducive policy environment. Foundational infrastructures include telecommunications, along with digital and financial infrastructures (such as broadband internet, mobile data services, data repositories, and payment and settlement services). The infrastructures should enable efficient data collection, processing, and transmission, which are central in fintech advances.

Reinforce Competition and Commitment to Open, Free, and Contestable Markets to ensure a level playing field and to promote innovation, consumer choice, and access to high-quality financial services. The successful and large-scale adoption of technology would be facilitated by an enabling policy framework regardless of the market participant, underlying technology, or method by which the service is provided. Policymakers should address the risks of market concentration, and should foster standardization, interoperability, and fair-and-transparent access to key infrastructures.

Foster Fintech to Promote Financial Inclusion and Develop Financial Markets by overcoming challenges related to reach, customer information, and commercial viability, and by improving infrastructure. The evolving digital economy together with effective supervision are essential in overcoming long-standing barriers to financial inclusion across a broad range of financial services and in enabling developing countries to leverage promising new pathways for economic and financial development to support growth and alleviate poverty. Examples include expanding access to finance while reducing costs, providing new ways to raise funding, enabling new information services to assess risks, and spurring new businesses. To achieve these goals, fintech issues should be part of a national inclusion and financial and digital literacy strategies, while fostering knowledge-sharing between public- and private-sector players, civil society, and other stakeholders.

Monitor Developments Closely to Deepen Understanding of Evolving Financial Systems to support the formulation of policies that foster the benefits of fintech and mitigate potential risks. The rapid pace of fintech will necessitate improvements and possible extensions in the reach of monitoring frameworks to support public-policy goals and to avoid disruptions to the financial system. Information-sharing and exchange would support improved monitoring. Achieving these objectives brings out the importance of continuous monitoring—including by maintaining an ongoing dialogue with the industry, both innovators and incumbents—to identify emerging opportunities and risks, and to facilitate the timely formation of policy responses.

Adapt Regulatory Framework and Supervisory Practices for Orderly Development and Stability of the Financial System and facilitate the safe entry of new products, activities, and intermediaries; sustain trust and confidence; and respond to risks. Many fintech risks might be addressed by existing regulatory frameworks. However, new issues may arise from new firms, products, and activities that lie outside the current regulatory perimeter. This may require the modification and adaptation of regulatory frameworks to contain risks of arbitrage, while recognizing that regulation should remain proportionate to the risks. Holistic policy responses may be needed at the national level, building on guidance provided by standard-setting bodies.

Safeguard the Integrity of Financial Systems by identifying, understanding, assessing, and mitigating the risks of criminal misuse of fintech, and by using technologies that strengthen compliance with anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) measures. While fintech innovation generally supports legitimate goals, some innovations may enable users to evade current controls for criminal ends, thus posing a threat to financial integrity. Country responses have varied considerably; but, in all cases, it is important to strengthen AML/CFT compliance and monitoring, including by using technology (Regtech and Suptech solutions) to support regulatory compliance and supervision.

Modernize Legal Frameworks to Provide an Enabling Legal Landscape with greater legal clarity and certainty regarding key aspects of fintech activities. Sound legal frameworks support trust and reliability in financial products and services. This is undermined, however, where legal frameworks fail to keep pace with fintech innovation and evolving global financial markets. An enabling legal framework can be fashioned by having clear and predictable legal rules that accommodate technological change, tailored to national circumstances, particularly in areas such as contracts, data ownership, insolvency, resolution, and payments.

Ensure the Stability of Domestic Monetary and Financial Systems by considering the implications of fintech innovations to central banking services and market structure, while: safeguarding financial stability; expanding, if needed, safety nets; and ensuring effective monetary policy transmission. Fintech could transform the financial markets through which monetary policy actions are transmitted and could challenge the conduct of monetary policy as well as redefine central banks’ role as lenders of last resort. On the other hand, fintech could help central banks improve their services, including potentially issuing digital currency, and expanding access to and improving the resilience of payments services.

Develop Robust Financial and Data Infrastructure to Sustain Fintech Benefits that are resilient to disruptions––including from cyber-attacks––and that support trust and confidence in the financial system by protecting the integrity of data and financial services. Developing such robust infrastructure raises a broad spectrum of issues that are relevant not only to the financial sector but also to the digital economy at large, including data ownership, protection, and privacy, cybersecurity, operational and concentration risks, and consumer protection.

Encourage International Cooperation and Information-Sharing across the global regulatory community to share knowledge, experience, and best practices to support an effective regulatory framework. As new technologies increasingly operate across borders, international cooperation is essential to ensure effective policy responses to foster opportunities and to limit risks that could arise from divergence in regulatory frameworks. Sharing experiences and best practices with the private sector and with the public at large would help catalyze discussion on the most effective regulatory response, considering country circumstances, and to build a global consensus. The IMF and World Bank can help in facilitating the global dialogue and information-sharing.

Enhance Collective Surveillance of the International Monetary and Financial System and the adaptation and development of policies to support inclusive global growth, poverty alleviation, and international financial stability in an environment of rapid change. Fintech is blurring financial boundaries—both institutionally and geographically—potentially amplifying interconnectedness, spillovers, and capital flow volatility. These developments could lead to increased multipolarity and interconnectedness of the global financial system, potentially affecting the balance of risks for global financial stability. The IMF and World Bank could help in improving collective surveillance and assist member countries via capacity building, in collaboration with other international bodies.

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The Monetary Policy of Pakistan: SBP Maintains the Policy Rate

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The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) announced its bi-monthly monetary policy yesterday, 27th July 2021. Pakistan’s Central bank retained the benchmark interest rate at 7% after reviewing the national economy in midst of a fourth wave of the coronavirus surging throughout the country. The policy rate is a huge factor that relents the growth and inflationary pressures in an economy. The rate was majorly retained due to the growing consumer and business confidence as the global economy rebounds from the coronavirus. The State Bank had slashed the interest rate by 625 basis points to 7% back in the March-June 2020 in the wake of the covid pandemic wreaking havoc on the struggling industries of Pakistan. In a poll conducted earlier, about 89% of the participants expected this outcome of the session. It was a leap of confidence from the last poll conducted in May when 73% of the participants expected the State Bank to hold the discount rate at this level.

The State Bank Governor, Dr. Raza Baqir, emphasized that the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) has resorted to holding the 7% discount rate to allow the economy to recover properly. He added that the central bank would not hike the interest rate until the demand shows noticeable growth and becomes sustainable. He echoed the sage economists by reminding them that the State Bank wants to relay a breather to Pakistan’s economy before pushing the brakes. The MPC further asserted that the Real Discount Rate (adjusted for inflation) currently stands at -3% which has significantly cushioned the economy and encouraged smaller industries to grow despite the throes of the pandemic.

Dr. Raza Baqir further went on to discuss the current account deficit staged last month. He added that the 11-month streak of the current account surplus was cut short largely due to the loan payments made in June. The MPC further explained that multiple factors including an impending expiration of the federal budget, concurrent payments due to lenders, and import of vaccines, weighed heavily down on the national exchequer. He further iterated that the State Bank expects a rise in exports along with a sustained recovery in the remittance flow till the end of 2021 to once again upend the current account into surplus. Dr. Raza Baqir assured that the current level of the current account deficit (standing at 3% of the GDP) is stable. The MPC reminded that majority of the developing countries stand with a current account deficit due to growth prospects and import dependency. The claims were backed as Dr. Raza Baqir voiced his optimism regarding the GDP growth extending from 3.9% to 5% by the end of FY21-22. 

Regarding currency depreciation, Dr. Baqir added that the downfall is largely associated with the strengthening greenback in the global market coupled with high volatility in the oil market which disgruntled almost every oil-importing country, including Pakistan. He further remarked, however, that as the global economy is vying stability, the situation would brighten up in the forthcoming months. Mr. Baqir emphasized that the current account deficit stands at the lowest level in the last decade while the remittances have grown by 25% relative to yesteryear. Combined with proceeds from the recently floated Eurobonds and financial assistance from international lenders including the IMF and the World Bank, both the currency and the deficit would eventually recover as the global market corrects in the following months.

Lastly, the Governor State Bank addressed the rampant inflation in the economy. He stated that despite a hyperinflation scenario that clocked 8.9% inflation last month, the discount rates are deliberately kept below. Mr. Baqir added that the inflation rate was largely within the limits of 7-9% inflation gauged by the State Bank earlier this year. However, he further added that the State Bank is making efforts to curb the unrelenting inflation. He remarked that as the peak summer demand is closing with July, the one-way pressure on the rupee would subsequently plummet and would allow relief in prices.

The MPC has retained the discount rate at 7% for the fifth consecutive time. The policy shows that despite a rebound in growth and prosperity, the threat of the delta variant still looms. Karachi, Pakistan’s busiest metropolis and commercial hub, has recently witnessed a considerable surge in infections. The positivity ratio clocked 26% in Karachi as the national figure inched towards 7% positivity. The worrisome situation warrants the decision of the State Bank of Pakistan. Dr. Raza Baqir concluded the session by assuring that despite raging inflation, the State Bank would not resort to a rate hike until the economy fully returns to the pre-pandemic levels of employment and production. He further assuaged the concerns by signifying the future hike in the policy rate would be gradual in nature, contrast to the 2019 hike that shuffled the markets beyond expectation.

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Reforms Key to Romania’s Resilient Recovery

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Over the past decade, Romania has achieved a remarkable track record of high economic growth, sustained poverty reduction, and rising household incomes. An EU member since 2007, the country’s economic growth was one of the highest in the EU during the period 2010-2020.

Like the rest of the world, however, Romania has been profoundly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the economy contracted by 3.9 percent and the unemployment rate reached 5.5 percent in July before dropping slightly to 5.3 percent in December. Trade and services decreased by 4.7 percent, while sectors such as tourism and hospitality were severely affected. Hard won gains in poverty reduction were temporarily reversed and social and economic inequality increased.

The Romanian government acted swiftly in response to the crisis, providing a fiscal stimulus of 4.4 percent of GDP in 2020 to help keep the economy moving. Economic activity was also supported by a resilient private sector. Today, Romania’s economy is showing good signs of recovery and is projected to grow at around 7 percent in 2021, making it one of the few EU economies expected to reach pre-pandemic growth levels this year. This is very promising.

Yet the road ahead remains highly uncertain, and Romania faces several important challenges.

The pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of Romania’s institutions to adverse shocks, exacerbated existing fiscal pressures, and widened gaps in healthcare, education, employment, and social protection.

Poverty increased significantly among the population in 2020, especially among vulnerable communities such as the Roma, and remains elevated in 2021 due to the triple-hit of the ongoing pandemic, poor agricultural yields, and declining remittance incomes.

Frontline workers, low-skilled and temporary workers, the self-employed, women, youth, and small businesses have all been disproportionately impacted by the crisis, including through lost salaries, jobs, and opportunities.

The pandemic has also highlighted deep-rooted inequalities. Jobs in the informal sector and critical income via remittances from abroad have been severely limited for communities that depend on them most, especially the Roma, the country’s most vulnerable group.

How can Romania address these challenges and ensure a green, resilient, and inclusive recovery for all?

Reforms in several key areas can pave the way forward.

First, tax policy and administration require further progress. If Romania is to spend more on pensions, education, or health, it must boost revenue collection. Currently, Romania collects less than 27 percent of GDP in budget revenue, which is the second lowest share in the EU. Measures to increase revenues and efficiency could include improving tax revenue collection, including through digitalization of tax administration and removal of tax exemptions, for example.

Second, public expenditure priorities require adjustment. With the third lowest public spending per GDP among EU countries, Romania already has limited space to cut expenditures, but could focus on making them more efficient, while addressing pressures stemming from its large public sector wage bill. Public employment and wages, for instance, would benefit from a review of wage structures and linking pay with performance.

Third, ensuring sustainability of the country’s pension fund is a high priority. The deficit of the pension fund is currently around 2 percent of GDP, which is subsidized from the state budget. The fund would therefore benefit from closer examination of the pension indexation formula, the number of years of contribution, and the role of special pensions.

Fourth is reform and restructuring of State-Owned Enterprises, which play a significant role in Romania’s economy. SOEs account for about 4.5 percent of employment and are dominant in vital sectors such as transport and energy. Immediate steps could include improving corporate governance of SOEs and careful analysis of the selection and reward of SOE executives and non-executive bodies, which must be done objectively to ensure that management acts in the best interest of companies.

Finally, enhancing social protection must be central to the government’s efforts to boost effectiveness of the public sector and deliver better services for citizens. Better targeted social assistance will be more effective in reaching and supporting vulnerable households and individuals. Strategic investments in infrastructure, people’s skills development, and public services can also help close the large gaps that exist across regions.

None of this will be possible without sustained commitment and dedicated resources. Fortunately, Romania will be able to access significant EU funds through its National Recovery and Resilience Plan, which will enable greater investment in large and important sectors such as transportation, infrastructure to support greater deployment of renewable energy, education, and healthcare.

Achieving a resilient post-pandemic recovery will also mean advancing in critical areas like green transition and digital transformation – major new opportunities to generate substantial returns on investment for Romania’s economy.

I recently returned from my first official trip to Romania where I met with country and government leaders, civil society representatives, academia, and members of the local community. We discussed a wide range of topics including reforms, fiscal consolidation, social inclusion, renewably energy, and disaster risk management. I was highly impressed by their determination to see Romania emerge even stronger from the pandemic. I believe it is possible. To this end, I reiterated the World Bank’s continued support to all Romanians for a safe, bright, and prosperous future.

First appeared in Romanian language in Digi24.ro, via World Bank

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US Economic Turmoil: The Paradox of Recovery and Inflation

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The US economy has been a rollercoaster since the pandemic cinched the world last year. As lockdowns turned into routine and the buzz of a bustling life came to a sudden halt, a problem manifested itself to the US regime. The problem of sustaining economic activity while simultaneously fighting the virus. It was the intent of ‘The American Rescue Plan’ to provide aid to the US citizens, expand healthcare, and help buoy the population as the recession was all but imminent. Now as the global economy starts to rebound in apparent post-pandemic reality, the US regime faces a dilemma. Either tighten the screws on the overheating economy and risk putting an early break on recovery or let the economy expand and face a prospect of unrelenting inflation for years to follow.

The Consumer Price Index, the core measure of inflation, has been off the radar over the past few months. The CPI remained largely over the 4% mark in the second quarter, clocking a colossal figure of 5.4% last month. While the inflation is deemed transitionary, heated by supply bottlenecks coinciding with swelling demand, the pandemic-related causes only explain a partial reality of the blooming clout of prices. Bloomberg data shows that transitory factors pushing the prices haywire account for hotel fares, airline costs, and rentals. Industries facing an offshoot surge in prices include the automobile industry and the Real estate market. However, the main factors driving the prices are shortages of core raw materials like computer chips and timber (essential to the efficient supply functions of the respective industries). Despite accounting for the temporal effect of certain factors, however, the inflation seems hardly controlled; perverse to the position opined by Fed Chair Jerome Powell.

The Fed already insinuated earlier that the economy recovered sooner than originally expected, making it worthwhile to ponder over pulling the plug on the doveish leverage that allowed the economy to persevere through the pandemic. The main cause was the rampant inflation – way off the 2% targetted inflation level. However, the alluded remarks were deftly handled to avoid a panic in an already fragile road to recovery. The economic figures shed some light on the true nature of the US economy which baffled the Fed. The consumer expectations, as per Bloomberg’s data, show that prices are to inflate further by 4.8% over the course of the following 12 months. Moreover, the data shows that the investor sentiment gauged from the bond market rally is also up to 2.5% expected inflation over the corresponding period. Furthermore, a survey from the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) suggested that net 47 companies have raised their average prices since May by seven percentage points; the largest surge in four decades. It is all too much to overwhelm any reader that the data shows the economy is reeling with inflation – and the Fed is not clear whether it is transitionary or would outlast the pandemic itself.

Economists, however, have shown faith in the tools and nerves of the Federal Reserve. Even the IMF commended the Fed’s response and tactical strategies implemented to trestle the battered economy. However, much averse to the celebration of a win over the pandemic, the fight is still not through the trough. As the Delta variant continues to amass cases in the United States, the championed vaccinations are being questioned. While it is explicable that the surge is almost distinctly in the unvaccinated or low-vaccinated states, the threat is all that is enough to drive fear and speculation throughout the country. The effects are showing as, despite a lucrative economic rebound, over 9 million positions lay vacant for employment. The prices are billowing yet the growth is stagnating as supply is still lukewarm and people are still wary of returning to work. The job market casts a recession-like scenario while the demand is strong which in turn is driving the wages into the competitive territory. This wage-price spiral would fuel inflation, presumably for years as embedded expectations of employees would be hard to nudge lower. Remember prices and wages are always sticky downwards!

Now the paradox stands. As Congress is allegedly embarking on signing a $4 trillion economic plan, presented by president Joe Bidden, the matters are to turn all the more complex and difficult to follow. While the infrastructure bill would not be a hard press on short-term inflation, the iteration of tax credits and social spending programs would most likely fuel the inflation further. It is true that if the virus resurges, there won’t be any other option to keep the economy afloat. However, a bustling inflationary environment would eventually push the Fed to put the brakes on by either raising the interest rates or by gradually ceasing its Asset Purchase Program. Both the tools, however, would risk a premature contraction which could pull the United States into an economic spiral quite similar to that of the deflating Japanese economy. It is, therefore, a tough stance to take whether a whiff of stagflation today is merely provisional or are these some insidious early signs to be heeded in a deliberate fashion and rectified immediately.

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